July 19th, 2007 06:05 EST
Pandemic Preparation Boosts Readiness for Other Disasters
Washington – The United States is better prepared to detect a pandemic flu outbreak, support international work to contain a pandemic in its early stages, limit a pandemic’s spread and save lives after a year of coordinated effort across federal agencies, according to a White House report.
Efforts to strengthen disease surveillance, expand hospital capacity and help the World Health Organization (WHO) improve global access to vaccines remain to be accomplished, the Homeland Security Council found in its one-year review of the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza implementation plan. (See related article.)
The review, released July 17, comes as WHO reports that the latest human toll from the highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza, H5N1, has reached 318 cases, with 192 deaths. In birds, the outbreak around the world shows no signs of abating. (See related article.)
“Infectious diseases know no borders,” said John Lange, the State Department’s special representative on avian and pandemic influenza, at a July 17 briefing, “and a key aspect of our campaign to contain the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza and to prepare for the possibility of a human pandemic is large-scale global engagement, specifically ongoing efforts by governments, international organizations and the private sector.”
Lange joined colleagues from the Homeland Security Council, the Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Homeland Security to discuss the report.
President Bush announced the U.S. National Strategy in 2005. The implementation plan, released in May 2006, listed more than 300 actions for federal departments and agencies to complete over 12 months. To date, 86 percent is complete and 14 percent is expected to be completed within six months. The actions include domestic and international efforts.
To confront the threat of a flu pandemic at its source, the United States has made critical contributions to controlling the international spread of H5N1, working with WHO, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health and many other international agencies.
Through the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, U.S. experts work with affected countries and international partners to detect, contain and prevent animal outbreaks; reduce human exposure; and enhance planning and preparedness for future outbreaks.
In more than 100 countries, the United States is working on avian flu issues. Over the past year, for example, the U.S. government supported training for more than 129,000 animal health workers and 17,000 human health workers in H5N1 surveillance and outbreak response, and sent 300,000 personal protective equipment kits to 70 countries for surveillance workers and outbreak-response teams.
U.S. experts provided vital technical expertise to national investigations of H5N1 outbreaks in countries on three continents and provided technical assistance, commodities and logistic or financial support to 39 of 60 H5N1-affected countries.
The United States also is working to improve laboratory diagnosis and early-warning networks in 75 countries.
“On the human health front,” said Dr. Rajeev Venkayya, special assistant to the president for biodefense, “we've embarked on a moon-shot approach to re-establishing vaccine production capacity and new technologies such as adjuvants [substances added to drugs to increase their effects], to stretch the effectiveness or the number of individuals we could vaccinate with a single dose of vaccine.” (See related article.)
BIRDS AND BORDERS
Along with partners in other U.S. agencies, USDA scientists are continuing a comprehensive surveillance of wild birds in every North America fly zone and monitoring wild birds in Russia, Greenland and Mexico as an early-warning strategy.
USDA staff members are assigned to rapid assessment and response teams that work in 30 countries, and 130 volunteers are available for international deployments through the FAO or bilaterally between an affected country and the United States.
“We've worked in more than 50 countries to help deliver and disseminate educational materials to prevent the spread of high-path H5N1,” said USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford. “We have helped train more than 100,000 people in other countries, ranging from animal health workers and wildlife biologists to government policymakers.”
At Homeland Security, Customs Border Protection (CBP) is coordinating with Canada and Mexico to develop, through a series of conferences, guidelines and best practices for law enforcement, emergency medical services, public works and emergency management.
The Transportation Security Administration is leading officials from the CBP, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the State Department, the Defense Department and the Federal Aviation Administration to develop a plan for managing the U.S. commercial aviation system in the event of a pandemic.
Although these steps are designed to address a human flu pandemic, said Dr. Jeff Runge, Department of Homeland Security chief medical officer on pandemic preparedness, “these activities will provide the structure to deal with any other biological threat, whether natural or an instrument of terrorism.”
“If H5N1 were to disappear tomorrow,” said Dr. John Agwunobi, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for health, “the need to be prepared for a pandemic will still exist, and this need to be prepared is something we own as a community, as a society, for the long run.”
The full text of the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan one-year summary is available on the White House Web site.
For additional information, see Bird Flu (Avian Influenza).
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By Cheryl Pellerin
USINFO Staff Writer